analysis-a subtle shift in US rhetoric suggests a new approach to Iran | world news
By Arshad Mohammed and John Irish
(Reuters) – A subtle shift in official U.S. statements suggests that Washington thinks reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal is better than alternatives despite advances in Iran’s nuclear program, diplomatic sources said and others.
For months, the Biden administration has argued that there would soon come a point where the nonproliferation benefits of a renewed deal — its ability to limit Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb — would be outweighed by the progress of Iran’s atomic program.
“You can’t revive a corpse,” Rob Malley, the top US negotiator, said Oct. 25.
Under the deal called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and struck by Iran and six major powers, Tehran limited its nuclear program to make it harder for it to get a bomb in exchange an easing of economic sanctions.
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Tehran has long declared its program to be for peaceful purposes.
Then-US President Donald Trump reneged on the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, prompting Iran to start violating nuclear limits a year later. US President Joe Biden has tried to revive the pact through indirect talks in Vienna, so far without success.
On February 28, two weeks before the talks were to end, State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “We will need more clarity in the coming days given that we are at this pivotal moment. .. knowing that Tehran’s nuclear progress will soon render the benefits of non-proliferation that the JCPOA has conveyed essentially meaningless.”
Others used various analogies to describe the urgency, saying the trail was limited, the clock was ticking, and the window was closing.
However, Price and other U.S. officials have since focused less on running out of time and more on pushing the deal alone if it was in the interests of U.S. national security.
“We will test the proposal for a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA as long as it remains in our interests,” Price said April 26. “As long as the nonproliferation benefit of a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is better than what we have now, that will likely be an outcome that is in our interests.”
The phrase to revive the deal only if it was in the national interest of the United States has been used before, including by Price on January 4, but its renewed emphasis and diminished emphasis on diminishing of time are a change.
“It’s a profound rewrite of the non-proliferation standard,” said a source familiar with the matter.
“What he’s basically saying is that it’s not a question (of) whether or not it gives us benefits equal to the previous JCPOA experience. He’s just saying it’s better than today. And ‘better than today’ is a looser standard.”
Dennis Ross, a former US diplomat who managed Iran policy for the Obama White House for two years, agreed.
“The wording now is ‘it’s still in our national security interest to have this’ given the alternatives,” Ross said.
“This is a deal where the breakout time won’t be what it used to be, due to advances in the program, but it’s still better than the alternatives available to us,” a- he declared. “It’s the very essence of where they are.”
Breakout time is the time it would take Iran to acquire the fissile material for a bomb if it chose to. The deal stretched that to about a year, but it’s now shrunk to weeks, according to US officials.
The State Department did not provide a response to questions from Reuters.
Despite talk of “plan B” options for addressing Iran’s nuclear program if the deal cannot be revived, there are few good ones.
Ross said the alternatives include increased economic pressure on Iran as well as US or Israeli military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. No calls to Washington, so he’s still trying to get the deal going.
“Plan B is basically what Plan A was,” Ross said.
Ross argued that Washington now believes that reinstating some of the limits of the deal, such as its 3.67% cap on the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium and the 202.8 kg limit on its stockpile of enriched uranium, was preferable to the alternative.
According to a March 3 International Atomic Energy Agency report, Iran was enriching uranium to 60% purity and its stockpile of enriched uranium stood at 3.2 tons.
The talks broke down in March largely because of Tehran’s demand that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the US terrorism list and the US’ refusal to do so, arguing that it was not part of the relaunch of the agreement.
On May 13, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said he believed EU envoy Enrique Mora, who is coordinating the talks, had made enough progress during a visit to Tehran. that week to relaunch discussions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said the visit was a chance to explore settling outstanding issues. “A good, reliable deal is within reach if the United States makes a political decision and sticks to its commitments,” he said.
After Mora’s visit, a European diplomatic source said neither side had committed to resuming talks and that it remained unlikely, if not impossible, to find a compromise on the IRGC.
“The Americans spoke out two months ago saying that time is running out and we need to find an agreement,” said this source. “But since March… they don’t seem to be in a rush.”
A Western diplomatic source said reviving the deal was worth it was ultimately a political decision.
“This is a political judgement,” the source said. “The deal has already lost its main benefits, but you can still say there are some things that make it better than nothing.”
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minnesota and by John Irish in Paris; Additional reporting by François Murphy in Vienna and by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)
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